Issues of welfare and low pay are set to become the battleground in the 2015 election. Opening shots have been fired this week, and, as always, factual reports quickly get countered by ideological nonsense.
The stories about zero hours contracts started a little while ago. The numbers of people estimated to be trapped on these contracts rapidly rose, while noises from government about what they were prepared to do about it petered out. Then came a report that a relatively sensible Tory strategist has said that his party won't make any headway in poorer areas of the country unless it is prepared to raise the minimum wage and work towards the living wage. A detailed story in the Independent shows how nervous the Tories are about this. Naturally their paymasters don't want to pay higher wages; they would much prefer to be subsidised by the taxpayer (which is all of us). While Labour and the Lib Dems have more or less committed to this, the Conservatives remain ideologically bound to the concept of an untrammelled free market in wages. Today the BBC news website published some interesting figures from the Resolution Foundation, showing that 20% of all workers earn less than the living wage.
But any attempt to have a sensible discussion on such issues is derailed by far-right pressure groups like the odious Taxpayers' Alliance, which often puts out press releases like a brattish child demanding attention. As the BBC site headlined it, "Force claimants to work for benefits, government urged". It displays the TPA's usual ignorance of the current system, but it got the publicity they wanted, not least from the Express. In a typically hate-filled and untruthful report, the paper repeats the TPA's made-up figures of a saving of £3.5bn a year. It accompanies this with a photograph, apparently authentically taken outside a jobcentre of the most unprepossessing youths they could find. The Express also has a piece, complete with maps, to show where the highest numbers of households without work are. Again, with criminal disregard for truth, all of these households (which include disabled people and their carers, for example) are labelled "work-shy". And the areas where most people are out of work are called unproductive, as if they could be thrown away.
So, while we need a genuine debate on welfare and wages, we need to base it on truth. And that will probably be impossible.
Finally, I couldn't resist this from an American website. Iain Duncan Smith is giving a lecture later this month to a right-wing organisation on "21st Century Welfare Reform". "He explains how transforming the country's welfare system goes hand in hand with transforming people's life chances - continuing a historic mission that Conservatives from William Wilberforce, Lord Shaftesbury and Abraham Lincoln have always had to help people improve the quality of their lives." What????? I don't know much about Lincoln but I know a great deal about Wilberforce and Shafesbury. IDS, you are no Wilberforce and you are no Shaftesbury.